Rejuvenating stretch: Dog pose (Adho Mukha Shvanasana)

Working with students at Yoga Nieuw West in the Dog pose (Adho Mukha Shvanasana).

Working on Dog pose at Yoga Nieuw West

Moving up the hips into ‘dog tilt’.

This is a powerfully rejuvenating pose that strengthens the hands, arms and upper body, opens the chest and improves the breathing. It lengthens the spinal column and increases circulation to the brain.

Do this when you need to boost your energy, so not at bedtime unless you do it slowly as a gentle pick-me-up.

Tip: Keep your elbows straight through squeezing your elbows inward and towards each other. Press your chest  towards your legs and tip your hips into dog-tilt as if your tailbone was being pulled gently upwards by an invisible hand.

Working on the dog pose at Yoga Nieuw West

Working with a student on dog pose.

Laughter in yoga class is okay

Ohm, ohhhmmmmm, ohhhmmmmm.  As the class sang out this ancient mantra, she found it hard not to think.  And the teacher had just been telling her to look at the thought and then let it go. Hard to let that one go!  What on earth am I doing here chanting Ohm (Aum, Om) like I’m part of some religious cult!

Sure, you can think if you like, and laugh if you have to.  Just because you’re looking inwards, it doesn’t mean that your humour will leave you. Laughter, after all, is an emotional release.  Which makes laughter therapy popular. Picture yourself standing in a yoga class for laughter mediation, feeling it’s impossible to force a laugh. Until you find yourself really laughing at how ridiculous the teacher looks, or fellow participants or yourself for joining in!  Simply starting the action of laughing brings on the laughter. Check out this dude, especially his ‘soundless’ laughter to crack at least a smile.

This is the way to go with Laughter Yoga (Hasyayoga), which harnesses self-triggered laughter on a physical plane and doesn’t necessarily rely on ‘humour’ to set it off.

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Yoga Nieuw West: Generating energy and calm in Amsterdam’s Nieuw West

English version of Westerpost interview, 18 May 2011

When I first came to the Netherlands from France 11 years ago, it was to improve my career prospects. I couldn’t have imagined at the time that I’d find the beginning of my passion for yoga in Amsterdam.

My life was busy and work and personal life seemed to drain my energy as well as sap my creativity.   Searching for a way to relax, I discovered an excellent yoga school in the centre of Amsterdam (Sai Mithra) and became hooked. Yoga helped me focus inwards and listen to my body as a whole.

However, after practising yoga for a year, with two young children to care for and a relationship on the rocks, I found I was ‘too busy’ to go to classes. I had ‘no free time.’ I stopped doing yoga. A year later, things hadn’t improved, so I decided to start with yoga again—just one and a half hours a week, and found space for myself again.

I wasn’t a natural for doing yoga, I was stiff, and I felt that my progression on the road to suppleness was painfully slow. But after two years I noticed a difference, not only to my body but to my way of being. I was calmer and more able to deal with the daily rollercoaster that was my life.

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Half candle or half shoulderstand (Viparita karani)

This posture stimulates the thyroid and parathyroid glands, increases blood supply to the brain and also strengthens the upper body, opens the chest and stretches the neck, shoulders and uppper back muscles.

lie on your back and bend your legs and gently bring your thighs as much toward your chest  as possible.  Use your hands to help you move your hips up off the mat.  Place the palms of the hands on the back of the ribs, resting the shoulders well on the floor. Tip your hips backward and bring your legs up to a 45 degree angle. Push from your toes, tip your hips backward into a more pronounced dog-tilt and allow your feet to leave the floor, bringing them until they point upward. Move your spine into your back, open and expand the chest and make your back slightly concave.

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A student said she had a pattern of waking up in the early hours of the morning and not being able to sleep again.

Doing some yoga before sleeping can help.  Avoid energising poses like the downward facing dog. Try instead Uttanasana the forward fold or Paschimottanasana, the forward bend from a sitting position.

With these forward bending poses, remember to move the hips into dog-tilt and breath to the first energy centre —muladara chakra, situated at the top of the cervix for women and just behind the perineum for men. Afterwards, do the child posture. You can also sit cross-legged and meditate (focus on the breathing and allowing more breath in on each inhalation and more breath to move out when you exhale).